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Best Cybersecurity Certifications for Your Career

Are you interested in a career in cybersecurity? Are you already working in cybersecurity and interested in advancing your career? It’s time to think about getting certified. A survey by (ISC)² determined that 70% of cybersecurity professionals were required to have a certification to work for their company.

This means that not having one can put you at a serious disadvantage, especially when you are job hunting. Let’s look at the top cybersecurity certifications to explore the benefits of each.

Cybersecurity Certifications To Explore

When choosing your certification, consider your career goals and align the certification with the role and industry you’d like to work in. If you are a beginner, start with entry-level certifications like CompTIA Security+ if you're new, and progress to more advanced options like CISSP for experienced professionals. Make sure to choose certifications endorsed by recognized bodies like (ISC)² or CompTIA. Remember, some certifications require ongoing education and re-certification, so consider the costs carefully. 

CompTIA provides a number of IT and cybersecurity certifications that validate your skills and knowledge. Earning a CompTIA certification can help you advance your career, increase your earning potential, and gain the confidence to take on new challenges. 

Who Should Consider It and General Prerequisites

CompTIA certifications are a great option for anyone looking to start or advance their career in cybersecurity. It’s also suitable for complete beginners. CompTIA certifications can help you stand out from the competition and increase your chances of getting hired. Classes are taught online by experienced cybersecurity professionals, covering all of the material you need to know for your exams. They also offer practice exams that will help you assess your readiness to write your test. There are no formal education requirements for most CompTIA certifications. However, it is recommended that you have some experience working in an IT environment. 

What Will You Learn

The certification validates your skills in protecting networks and systems from cyberattacks. It covers security fundamentals, including the CIA triad (Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability), risk management, security policies and procedures, security awareness and training, encryption algorithms, public key infrastructure (PKI), digital signatures, key management, network security and devices, operating system security and cloud security. You’ll learn about common cyberattacks (malware, phishing, social engineering), vulnerabilities in software and systems, threat intelligence, application, data, and infrastructure security, security assessments and testing, security incident response, and even legal, regulatory, and compliance issues.

How To Acquire It

You’ll need to pay a fee and pass the exam to earn your certification. You can also purchase optional training and exam prep materials at an extra cost. 

Good cybersecurity bootcamps, like the University of South Florida’s cybersecurity bootcamp, offer a CompTIA certification waiver, which means that the cost of taking the CompTIA Security+ exam is included in the bootcamp tuition. Students will not need to pay any additional fees to take the exam. This can significantly benefit students, as the exam voucher typically costs around $392.

The GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC) certification is a professional credential that confirms a professional’s comprehensive knowledge of information security. It goes beyond basic terminology and concepts, demonstrating the individual's ability to handle hands-on security tasks within IT systems.

Who Should Consider It and General Prerequisites

The certification is ideal for new information security professionals with backgrounds in information systems and networking, security professionals and security managers who want to validate their skills and knowledge, operations personnel involved in security tasks, IT engineers and supervisors responsible for security aspects of their systems, as well as specialists like security administrators, forensic analysts, penetration testers, and auditors.

Before becoming certified, you will need to be familiar with information technology concepts and have a basic understanding of networking and operating systems. 

What Will You Learn

You will learn defense in depth, including how to implement multiple layers of security controls to protect critical assets, how to secure access to systems and data through proper authentication and password management techniques, and the fundamentals of cryptography and its application in information security.

The certification also covers the fundamentals of cloud and network security, incident handling and response, vulnerability scanning and penetration testing, and Linux and Windows security. 

How To Acquire It

You’ll need to complete a certification exam at a cost. The first attempt will cost $949, and additional attempts will cost $849. You can also pay extra for practice tests and training. 

PEN-200, also known as PWK, is a comprehensive self-paced course that teaches you the fundamentals of penetration testing using the popular Kali Linux distribution. This course is considered the industry standard for penetration testing training and is designed to equip you with the necessary skills and knowledge to earn the coveted OSCP certification.

Who Should Consider It and General Prerequisites

This is a great certification for Infosec professionals who want to transition into penetration testing, pentesters who want to validate their skills and knowledge with a respected certification, security professionals and network administrators who want to gain a deeper understanding of ethical hacking techniques, as well as technology professionals who want to broaden their cybersecurity skillset.

To complete this certification, you will need a solid understanding of TCP/IP networking, reasonable experience in Windows and Linux administration, and general familiarity with basic Bash and/or Python scripting. 

What Will You Learn

The certification will cover penetration testing methodologies and frameworks, attacking and exploiting various live machines in a safe lab environment, and providing hands-on experience with various hacking tools and techniques.

How To Acquire It

You will need to enroll in the PEN-200 course through OffSec's website, complete the course materials, and pass the OSCP 24-hour proctored exam to acquire your certification. 

The CEH Certified Ethical Hacker certification is a globally recognized credential that validates your skills in ethical hacking, also known as penetration testing. It demonstrates your ability to identify computer system and network vulnerabilities before malicious hackers can exploit them.

Who Should Consider It and General Prerequisites

The certification is suitable for IT professionals with at least two years of experience in information security who want to validate their skills and advance their careers, as well as individuals new to the cybersecurity field who want to gain a comprehensive understanding of ethical hacking, or that want to pursue a career as a penetration tester, cyber incident analyst, threat intelligence analyst, cloud security architect or cybersecurity engineer. 

To complete the certification, you will need to have either two years of work experience in information security or have completed an official EC-Council training program.

What Will You Learn

The CEH certification is divided into 20 modules, delivered across five days of intensive training. Each module includes hands-on lab experience across 220 labs, pre-loaded with thousands of hacking tools and operating systems. You’ll learn ethical hacking, gain exposure to commercial-grade hacking tools and techniques, build your skills in cybersecurity, and learn about more than 500 unique attack techniques. 

How To Acquire It

You’ll need to register for and pass the exam, which costs between $1,699 and $2,049.

The CISM certification offered by ISACA validates your expertise in the management side of information security. This includes information security governance, program development and management, incident management, and risk management. 

Who Should Consider It and General Prerequisites

The certification is recommended for IT professionals interested in transitioning from the technical to the managerial side of cybersecurity, including pursuing a career as an IT manager, information systems security officer, information risk consultant, director of information security, or data governance manager.

Because of the nature of the certification, you will need at least five years of experience in information security management, with at least three years in three or more job practice analysis areas. An experience waiver may cover up to two years of the experience requirement.

What Will You Learn

The certification covers the organizational and governance aspects of information security, information security governance best practices, risk management frameworks and methodologies, incident management processes and procedures, and program development and management strategies.

How To Acquire It

You’ll need to meet the prerequisites, apply, and pass the exam. The exam consists of 50 multiple-choice questions and takes four hours to complete. You will need a score of 450 to pass. The certification exam costs $575 for ISACA members and $760 for non-members.  You’ll also need to complete ongoing CPE (Continuing Professional Education) requirements to retain your certification. 

The (ISC)² Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) is a vendor-neutral certification that validates your expertise and knowledge across a broad range of cybersecurity domains. It is considered the gold standard for cybersecurity professionals and is highly sought-after by employers.

Who Should Consider It and General Prerequisites

This certification is ideal for professionals seeking to advance their career in cybersecurity, land more lucrative positions like IT director, security manager, or chief information security officer, or meet the growing demand for management professionals in the cybersecurity field. 

You will need at least five years of full-time paid work experience in two or more of the eight CISSP domains of knowledge, but a college degree may be substituted for one year of the required experience. CISSP experience waivers are available for military personnel and certain other individuals.

What Will You Learn

By earning the CISSP, you will gain knowledge and expertise in the following eight domains:

  • Security and Risk Management

  • Asset Security

  • Security Architecture and Engineering

  • Communication and Network Security

  • Identity and Access Management (IAM)

  • Security Assessment and Testing

  • Security Operations

  • Software Development Security

How To Acquire It

If you meet the prerequisites, you can take the exam with 125-175 multiple-choice questions. You will need to pass with a score of 700 and then maintain your certification by completing 40 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits every three years.

The (ISC)² Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP) is a certification that validates your advanced technical skills and knowledge in designing, managing, and securing data, applications, and infrastructure in the cloud. It focuses on broader cloud security best practices compared to vendor-specific certifications like those for Microsoft Azure or AWS.

Who Should Consider It and General Prerequisites

Anyone aspiring for a role in a cloud-based environment would benefit from the CCSP certification, including cloud security engineers, IT security professionals, information security professionals, software security professionals, and IT or business leaders responsible for applying best practices to cloud security architecture, design, operations, and service orchestration. 

This is an advanced certification, so you will need at least 5 years of full-time experience in IT, of which 3 years must be in information security and 1 year must be in one or more of the six domains of the CCSP CBK. An experience waiver is available (similar to CISSP).

What Will You Learn

By earning the CCSP certification, you will gain expertise in areas like cloud architecture, cloud security concepts and principles, cloud security best practices, governance and risk management, data, and application security in the cloud, cloud infrastructure and operations security, and legal and regulatory considerations for cloud security.

How To Acquire It

If you meet the prerequisites, you’ll need to apply and prepare for a 150-multiple-choice-question exam and pass the exam with a score of 700 or higher. You will need to maintain your certification by earning 40 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits every three years.

The ISACA Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) is a globally recognized certification that validates a professional's ability to audit, control, and assure the security of an organization's IT systems and information. This prestigious certification is considered a "beacon of excellence" in the IT audit domain and is highly sought-after by employers in various industries.

Who Should Consider It and General Prerequisites

The CISA certification is ideal for professionals who want to advance their careers in IT auditing, risk management, and compliance or land lucrative positions such as IT auditor, internal auditor, public accounting auditor, and information risk analyst.

To complete the certification, you will need at least five years of full-time paid work experience in information systems auditing, control, security, or assurance. A college degree may be substituted for one year of the required experience, and an experience waiver is available through ISACA for certain individuals.

What Will You Learn

By earning the CISA, you will gain knowledge and expertise in areas like the IT audit process, the governance and management of IT, information systems acquisition, development, and implementation, IT service delivery, support, and monitoring, and legal, regulatory, and ethical considerations in the field. 

How To Acquire It

If you meet the prerequisites, you can prepare for and take the exam, which consists of 150 multiple-choice questions. You’ll need to pass the exam with a score of 450 or more, and you will need 20 CPE credits every two years to maintain the certification. 

The CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP+) is an advanced-level cybersecurity certification that validates your technical skills and expertise in designing, implementing, and managing complex enterprise security solutions. It is considered the pinnacle of the CompTIA cybersecurity career roadmap and builds upon the knowledge gained through CompTIA Security+, CySA+, and PenTest+ certifications.

Who Should Consider It and General Prerequisites

The CASP+ certification is ideal for cybersecurity professionals who want to advance their technical skills and knowledge beyond entry-level certifications or who aspire to become security architects, security operations managers, information assurance analysts, or other senior security roles.

While there are no official prerequisites for the CASP+ exam, CompTIA recommends at least ten years of general hands-on IT experience, five years of broad hands-on security experience, and a strong understanding of the topics covered in CompTIA Security+, CySA+, and PenTest+.

What Will You Learn

By earning the CASP+ certification, you will gain knowledge and expertise in areas like enterprise security architecture and engineering, risk management and mitigation, incident response and recovery, security operations and monitoring, identity and access management, cloud security and cryptography, and PKI.

How To Acquire It

You’ll need to take a 90-question exam that lasts 165 minutes, and then maintain your certification by completing 20 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits every three years.

Tips for Success in Cybersecurity Certification Exams

Succeeding in cybersecurity certification exams requires dedication, preparation, and a strategic approach. 

Do Your Research and Develop a Learning Timetable

Different certifications cater to varying levels and specializations within cybersecurity. Research the exam requirements, topics covered, and target audience to ensure it aligns with your career goals. Make sure to allocate dedicated time for studying each week based on the exam date and your learning pace. Break down the syllabus into manageable segments and prioritize key topics to make it easier for you. 

Start With Official Preparation Resources

There are so many videos, books, and blogs available online that things can get confusing. Start with the resources provided by the certification body. Official resources like exam guides, study manuals, and practice tests are invaluable tools to familiarize yourself with the exam format, content, and difficulty level, and they ensure that you are covered. If you need to, enroll in online courses or boot camps to give yourself that extra boost of confidence. These programs offer structured learning environments with expert instructors, interactive learning modules, and practice labs to reinforce your understanding.

Do Practice Tests

Take advantage of practice tests offered by the certification body or reputable third-party vendors. These tests simulate the actual exam format and difficulty, which can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. Identify areas where you need improvement and focus your studying accordingly. Review challenging questions and ensure you fully understand the concepts before moving on. You should also time yourself during practice tests to manage your time effectively during the actual exam and avoid rushing through questions.

Talk to People Who Have Already Taken the Exam (or Explore Online on Blogs, Forums, and YouTube)

Connect with other cybersecurity professionals who have already passed the exam. They can offer valuable insights into the exam experience and share their study strategies and tips. Wherever possible, join online forums and communities dedicated to cybersecurity certifications. Ask questions, participate in discussions, and learn from the experiences of others. Try to follow cybersecurity blogs and YouTube channels to stay updated on the latest industry trends and access valuable study materials and expert tips.

Join the Cybersecurity Community

Networking with other professionals in the cybersecurity field will give you access to much-needed support and guidance. Attend industry events, conferences, and webinars to connect with like-minded individuals and expand your knowledge.

You should also consider joining professional organizations such as ISACA or (ISC)². These organizations offer resources, training programs, and networking opportunities to help you advance your cybersecurity career.

FAQs About Best Cybersecurity Certifications

What Is a Cybersecurity Certification?

A cybersecurity certification is a professional credential that validates your knowledge and skills in cybersecurity. It demonstrates to employers that you have the necessary expertise to secure their IT systems and protect their data. 

Is a Cybersecurity Certification Enough To Get a Job?

While a cybersecurity certification can significantly increase your chances of getting a job, it is not enough on its own. Employers also value hands-on experience, technical skills, and soft skills. 

What Are the Best Cybersecurity Certifications for Beginners?

CompTIA Security+ is a vendor-neutral entry-level certification that covers the fundamentals of cybersecurity, whereas the (ISC)² Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification is also good for beginners but covers a broader range of cybersecurity domains.

What Are the Best Free Cybersecurity Certifications?

The EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) covers the fundamentals of ethical hacking. It is a great option for individuals interested in pursuing a career in penetration testing but without the funds to study. The free SANS GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC) certification covers various cybersecurity topics and is a good place to start. 

Is It Better To Get a Cybersecurity Degree or Certificate?

Both cybersecurity degrees and certifications can be valuable for your career. A degree provides a broader theoretical foundation, while a certificate focuses on specific skills and practical knowledge. The best option for you will depend on your career goals and learning style.

What Are the Highest Paid Certifications in Cybersecurity?

With an average salary of $156,699 per year, CISSP is a good option. The CISM (Certified Information Security Manager) certification also offers high earning potential, with an average salary of $162,347. It demonstrates expertise in information security governance, management, programs, and incident management.